Published February 01, 2012
A 48-year-old Florida businessman has legally adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend as his daughter in what one attorney is calling an attempt to shield assets in a wrongful death civil suit that has entered a "legal twilight zone," according to a judge.
John Goodman, who founded the International Polo Club Beach in Wellington, legally adopted Heather Hutchins on Oct. 13 in Miami-Dade County, according to a court order by Circuit Court Judge Glenn Kelley.
"The events which serve as the grounds for the relief sought by the Plaintiffs border on the surreal and take the Court into a legal twilight zone," Kelley wrote in an order granting attorneys for Lili and William Wilson the right to information concerning Goodman's adoption. " … While there is nothing unusual about an adult adoption, the critical fact here is that Ms. Hutchins is Mr. Goodman's 42-year-old girlfriend. Ms. Hutchins has testified in a deposition that she started dating Mr. Goodman in 2009, and it appears to be undisputed that they are still in a relationship today."
The unusual legal move was exposed in court documents pertaining to a wrongful death civil suit in connection to a February 2010 crash that killed 23-year-old Scott Patrick Wilson. According to Palm Beach County Sheriff's reports, Goodman ran a stop sign and fatally struck Wilson. A civil trial date has been set for March 27, according to attorney Scott Smith, who represents William Wilson, the victim's father.
"As a result of adopting his 42-year-old adult girlfriend, John Goodman has effectively taken over one-third of the trust assets," Smith told FoxNews.com. "It should not go unrecognized that he has adopted his adult girlfriend as opposed to adopting a child in need. That cannot go unrecognized."
Judge Kelley has previously ruled that a trust established for Goodman's two minor children could not be considered as part of his financial worth if a jury awarded damages to the Wilsons. It remains unclear, according to a Jan. 26 order by Kelly, whether Hutchins will in fact be recognized as a legitimate beneficiary under the children's trust.
"A probate court with jurisdiction over the trust (either in Texas or Delaware) will be called upon to determine this issue and will ultimately decide whether the adoption, at least as it relates to the children's trust, is a sham," Kelley wrote. "Nevertheless, Mr. Goodman asserts that the adoption makes Ms. Hutchins a beneficiary and, until a probate court holds otherwise, this Court will assume this is true."
Goodman could not be reached for comment by FoxNews.com early Wednesday. His attorney, Dan Bachi, did not return a call requesting comment, but told the Palm Beach Post that the adoption was finalized to ensure his family's stability.
"It has nothing to do with the lawsuit currently pending against him," Bachi told the newspaper.
Goodman, who reportedly had a blood-alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit in Florida several hours after the crash, also faces a criminal trial relating to the fatal 2010 crash. He is due to appear in court on March 6 on charges of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a crash. He faces up to 30 years if convicted.
FoxNews.com's Joshua Rhett Miller contributed to this report.